Against All Things Ending

Although they're not for everyone, I've always been a huge fan of the Thomas Covenant books. Returning to the Land always makes for an exceptional reading experience. Which is why I couldn't wait to read Against All Things Ending. By summoning Thomas Covenant back from the dead as Fatal Revenant was brought to a close, the cliffhanger ending meant that this third volume in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant was one of the most eagerly anticipated SFF titles of 2010 for me.

Here's the blurb:

Thomas Covenant is alive again, restored to his mortal body by the unimaginable combined force of his own white gold ring, Linden Avery's Staff of Law, and the ancient dagger called High Loric's krill. His resurrection is Linden's defiant act of love, despite warnings from mortals and immortals that unleashing this much power would destroy the world. She brought his spirit back from its prison in the Arch of Time, and revived his slain body, so that Covenant lies whole on the cool grass, and the world seems at peace. But the truth is inescapable: The thunderclap of power has awakened the Worm of the World's End, and all of them, and the Land itself, are forfeit to its devouring. If they have any chance to save the Land, it will come from unlikely sources- including the mysterious boy Jeremiah, Linden's adopted son, whose secrets are only beginning to come to light.

If you've read anything by Stephen R. Donaldson, then you know that nothing is ever easy with this author. Hence, the beloved character Thomas Covenant may be back, but his mind is broken. When Linden brought him back to life, being torn away from the Arch of Time nearly destroyed his mind. So don't expect Covenant to become the Land's savior or messiah figure. . .

As was the case with the second installment, Against All Things Ending begins right where Fatal Revenant ended. If any readers were hoping for a happy reunion between Linden Avery and Thomas Covenant, well they have another think coming. At this point, anyone familiar with Donaldson's work should be aware that the author just doesn't write that sort of thing.

Donaldson's narrative in every Covenant novel always conjures up vivid and magical images, and Against All Things Ending is no exception. Few speculative fiction authors can match Donaldson when it comes to creating an imagery that literally leaps off the page. Vast in scope and vision, this third volume answers many of the questions raised by its predecessors. Expect revelations about Lord Foul, Esmer, the Worm of the World, the Insequent, the Elohim, and much, much more.

So one would think that we are in for another terrific reading experience, right? Sadly, that's not the case. This novel doesn't deliver the way the first two volumes did. Indeed, it is probably the weakest Thomas Covenant book out there. It's not bad, mind you. But it fails to live up to the expectations generated by both The Runes of the Earth and Fatal Revenant.

The book's greatest shortcoming is its snail pace. Granted, past Thomas Covenant installments have never been known for their crisp and fast-moving rhythm. Every Covenant book has suffered from a more sluggigh pace once in a while, so Donaldson fans know what to expect. As a matter of course, readers were aware that Linden's attemps to rescue her son Jeremiah from the croyel would be one of the major storylines in Against All Things Ending. So it was no surprise to discover that the early portion of the novel focused on that particular story arc. And for a while, that plotline is just awesome. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say that it is reminiscent of the sequence underneath Melenkurion Skyweir in Fatal Revenant. But then comes a decidedly anti-climactic resolution, and there follows a travelogue of about 350 to 400 pages that bored me in such a way that I wanted to open my own veins and end it. This very nearly killed the entire book for me.

The characterization is another facet that leaves a lot to be desired in this one. Once more, revelations are made that will break Linden's heart, and she must find the strength within herself to persevere. But even though Covenant fans have come to expect such a thing, Against All Things Ending takes an emo turn for the worst. Linden Avery has always been a flawed protagonist. In the past, though it doesn't make for the most likeable of character, it always made her genuine. And yet, this time Donaldson clearly went overboard with the guilt, the self-loathing, and the painful emotions. Those who had problems with Linden in the past will likely despise this incarnation even more. Another aspect of the characterization which might put off some readers would be Covenant's passiveness. It's all due to the fact that is mind is broken, true, but for the better part of the novel Thomas Covenant is little more than a plot device giving the rest of the cast something to react to.

After such a wonderful start, I was shocked that Stephen R. Donaldson could have fallen so low. I should have known better. The last hundred pages or so deliver a two-prong emotionally charged ending that packs a powerful punch. Don't want to give anything away, but it is very touching.

It is now evident that Donaldson had four powerful endings planned, which is why he structured this series into four distinct volumes. But I fear that he lacked the material to truly come up with four fully satisfying installments. This one may have worked better as a trilogy. Only time will tell. . .

So does such a great ending redeem Against All Things Ending? To a certain extent, it does. Yet there is no question that, taken as a whole, this book remains the weakest of all nine Covenant volumes published to date. And as such, this is a major disappoitnment. Still, a so-so Covenant book is better than many good fantasy novels out there. And the ending sets the stage for what should be an incredible finale in the forthcoming The Last Dark.

The final verdict: 7/10

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8 commentaires:

Joseph L. Selby said...

I downloaded the sample of the first in the series, but I can tell you right off that I wouldn't pay $13 for a new release much less a five-year-old book. That's really frustrating.

Scott Marlowe said...

One of thing that stands out in my mind about the second Covenant series was the pace... it was sooooo slow. Based on your comments re this one, not sure if I want to wade in or not.

Anonymous said...

I never got past the third book, where I had my fill of such a lowsome, unlikable, rapist, whiner of a protagonist.

Anti-hero or not, the fact that 3 times in he still was whining about his situation just drove me off.

MarcD said...

Donaldson is a genius. The Thomas Covenant books aren't for everyone, but for discerning fans eager for more than the sword-and-sorcery dreck that characterizes most modern fantasy, this stuff is pure gold. Only Erikson approaches the heights Donaldson routinely reaches. I'm enjoying the HECK out of the Last Chronicles.

Joe said...

It's true when I first read Lord Foul's Bane I constantly looked up words in the dictionary but once my vocabulary grew Ir really began to enjoy the later books in the series. The first chapter of Against All Things Ending is truly Epic.

Although athe moment I'm actually looking at analysing Stephen Donaldson's style of writing. The analysis is on my blog: I've compared the first chapter of Lord Foul's Bane to the first chapter of Against All Things Ending. I'll be posting a fuller review of the book after the linguistics analysis. You might be interested if you're into writing.


Flytrap said...

107 pages and they still hadn't moved from one spot while they each considered the implications and consequences of every freaking, miniscule possibility. Then a long chapter of them running from an indescribable (but repititiously overthought) horror, through countless caverns. The story moves so slowly and is so overthought, the only way I can get through it is to skim though enough paragraphs to get back to the story. And all I can think of most of the time is, "Covenant! Man UP would you?" The most whiney, unlikeable bunch of overthought characters I've ever read. Self-indulgent writing at its worst.

James Helvie said...

I Enjoy read his books I have most of them and his way of taken life and throwing the rule book away and show us that life no matter how sarcastic and frustrating and yes even slow at times is here grab it and it will take you for the ride you'll never regret. Good going Stephen Fan for life.

Stage The Bard said...

I agree with you fully. I am a great fan. I even got a white gold ring years ago after the first three becuase I liked the books so much. This book is exactly what you claimed. I was very disappointed. Donaldson could have trimed 75% of the guilt and self-loathing (over and over and over again... as Covenant said "I get it!") and reduced the book size 150 pages. This would have made a much better book.